With the exception of a possible US-North Korea military conflict, it seems that the Chinese public is hopeful for the future of Sino-American relations.
The trade relationship between the US and China, the world’s two largest economies, has implications for the entire world. During his campaign, Trump vilified China by calling them “a trade cheat” and “currency manipulator” and continued his comments against China on Twitter throughout the start of his presidency. Since then, western media has been full of Trump tweets regarding China, as well as some second-hand reports about what the Chinese media is saying about Trump. This report, the first in an ongoing series, represents an attempt to find out definitively what China thinks of Trump. To that end, a number of Chinese periodicals will be read, translated and used as sources. This first article will look at two Chinese media articles, one from before the election and one from the end of Trump’s first 100 days in office.
The first article, from Yang Yang, entitled “Social comment: Why Some Chinese People Prefer Trump” appeared on September 29, 2016, and reflects Chinese netizens’ opinions of Donald Trump became he became president. ’
Yang Yang begins his article by explaining that during the election, Chinese netizens were calling Trump “床破” “Chuáng pò “, which literally means “bed break”; however, this is a colloquial way of calling someone an idiot. The nickname was chosen because it sounds similar to the Chinese transliteration for Trump which is ““tè lǎng pǔ”. Yang Yang says that Chinese people awarded Trump this name because of his “nonsensical behavior.” The article accused Trump of having lampooned the American elections, and sometimes making a fool of both himself and the United States. Yang Yang also discussed how Trump was seen as a joke by the American public who, along with the American politicians, condemned his actions.
Yang Yang explained that Chinese people did not like Hillary Clinton, who they believe is “vicious” toward China and too focused on “ideology” and human rights. This attitude by Chinese netizens has long been a sticking point in US-China relations, as well as US trade deals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). US trade, investment, and aid often comes with stipulations about human rights and other reforms which the US demands host countries make. China has always viewed these requirements as a way for the US to “meddle” in the internal affairs of other countries. Yang Yang suggests that Chinese people expected Clinton to “meddle” more, while they expected Trump to focus mainly on trade.
As evidence of Clinton’s meddling, Yang Yang wrote that as Secretary of State, Clinton was instrumental in Obama’s pivot towards Asia and promoted “return to Asia” and “clever strength diplomacy.” Yang Yang reports that the Chinese felt Clinton was both dishonest and ambitious. Beginning with the Monica Lewenski incident, she learned to “bite the bullet” and turn these events around in order to achieve her political goals. Yang Yang sums up Hillary Clinton by saying, “She is already very old and tough and does not match Chinese society’s expectations for a female politician.” Chinese people expect that if she were president, her China policies would be even more aggressive.
After reading this article, it became clear that the Chinese media understood that Trump represented a voice against “political correctness” and the mainstream establishment, and they saw these facts as selling points. At the same time, they recognized Trump’s harsh words toward China as an attack. In spite of these attacks, the Chinese still appreciate the fact that he didn’t “wield the human rights’ stick” like Clinton did.
Regarding Trump’s popularity, Yang Yang said that in addition to the United States mainstream elite disliking Trump, the European public opinion is also against him. Additionally, the Japanese are afraid of him. Yang Yang believed that as many Americans wanted to see Trump come to power as wanted him to go to trial, so that he had “no chance to mess up the United States and the West.”
Chinese netizens felt that Trump turned the US election into an entertaining TV show. Yang Yang stated that Chinese people with limited understanding of international relationships may have thought Trump would be easier to deal with than Clinton. Other, presumably more informed Chinese observers, think Trump is unreliable; however he poses more of a threat to America and the West than he does to China.
Yang Yang hypothesizes that Chinese people who have a deeper understanding of international politics are unable to take Trump seriously, yet he was still viewed as a better choice than Clinton, who they believed would be even worse news for China. Many Chinese netizens see Trump as “spoofing” the US presidential election, and believe that such a person would be more suitable to be the president of Japan—the implication here being that the Chinese hate Japan, and they wished that Trump could mess up Japan, rather than the United States.
In general, around the time of the elections, the Chinese were pessimistic about Sino-US relations. In general, they were trying to decide whether Clinton or Trump would be worse for China. The article concludes that while it was unclear which of the two would be the worst, it was certain that both would destroy the United States. Having said that, at least Trump was the more entertaining, and Chinese people could enjoy watching him.
In the second article published at the end of Trump’s first 100 days in office, there was quite a shift in the Chinese perceptions of Trump.
The second article “April 29 is the hundredth day of Trump’s rule” written by Lao Mu (2017) demonstrated that Chinese netizens have an uncanny understanding of American politics. The article begins by citing an ABC News poll demonstrating that Trump was the least popular incoming president since World War II with an approval rating of only 44%. According to the article, Trump’s reaction to news was to attack the media and accuse them of lying. The author says that Trump had less than half of the popular votes and that the circumstances under which he was elected will cause a riff in the US which may last until his presidency is finished. “He should be happy, however,” Lau Mu says that 94% of Trump’s voters still support him.
Lao Mu notes that during the campaign, Trump took a harsh stance toward China. Trump’s words and deeds, such as “maliciously touching the ‘one China’ principle,” and threatening to label China as a “currency manipulator” upset the Chinese people However, since the election, he has “transformed” and began demonstrating that he knows correct behavior for a world-class politician by inviting President Xi Jinping to visit the United States. The author recognizes the progress made between the two regarding US-China relations, and says that they have built “good personal relations.”
In China, personal relations are the basis for everything from business to politics, and for the Chinese netizens to recognize that Trump and Xi now share good relations demonstrates a significant improvement in the political climate between the two countries. Along the lines of “good personal relations”, Lao Mu also said that the two leaders had built “deeper understanding”, another Chinese buzzword which the author says is preferable to a trade war.
Lao Mu utilizes other Chinese buzzwords, such as dialogue, development and relations. He writes, “The two sides decided to establish four high-level dialogue mechanisms, such as diplomatic security dialogue, comprehensive economic dialogue, law enforcement and cybersecurity dialogue, social and humanistic dialogue, and show the prospects for healthy development of Sino-US relations.” This all seems to suggest that Chinese netizens see the Trump-Xi dynamic in a positive light and that they are optimistic about the future of US-China relations.
Lao Mu also describes the Chinese take on Sino-US relationships between previous administrations and China. “Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States, every time the US presidential election and the new president have taken office, Sino-US relations have always been at a low ebb”. For a Western observer, this factoid would need to be researched and verified. During their campaigns, did Barack Obama or Bill Clinton demonstrate a particular enmity toward China? However, the significance of this fact in the context of this article is not whether or not it is true, but that this is what Chinese people, and by extrapolation, what the Chinese government believe.
The article stated that China attaches great importance to Sino-US relations, and the Chinese people hope for a Sino-US friendship. Lao Mu then goes on to say that Trump broke the cycle of US presidential aggression toward China and instead moved toward normalizing relations between the two countries. The Chinese praised Trump’s actions as “practical and courageous”.
Chinese people also liked the fact that Trump utilizes his own family members as presidential advisors. Both Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka are well known and liked in China. The Chinese are also aware that Trump’s children are not taking salaries and they think this adds to the family’s credibility. While cronyism leads to questions and criticism in the US, nepotism is common in China. Lao Mu asserts that Chinese netizens believe Trump has little regard for public opinion or gossip.
This article also goes into detail about the development of military actions between the US and China, focusing on the issue of North Korea. The article reports that the United States deployed aircraft carriers, submarines, and fighter jets to increase military pressure on North Korea and curb North Korean nuclear ambitions. Additionally, the US took advantage of the opportunity to deploy THAAD missiles in South Korea. According to Lao Mu, Many Chinese are of the opinion that the United States deliberately misinterpreted the DPRK issue, and are now lumping China and North Korea together. The Chinese have stated that “United States is unrealistic to ask China to ‘take responsibility’ or to solve the DPRK nuclear issue.”
Chinese netizens are angry, blaming US officials and the media for misreporting that the Chinese government was prepared to allow the US to use military force against North Korea. Lao Mu wrapped up his article by saying the US government misleading the public about its arrangements with China regarding North Korea was “disgraceful”.
These two articles were selected to demonstrate the shift in general feeling about Donald Trump in China. At the beginning of the campaign, most Chinese were hopeful that Trump would be a good businessman and would foster trade between the two countries. They also preferred him to Clinton who they feared would be too involved in Chinese internal affairs, particularly regarding human rights. As the campaign went on, more and more Chinese saw Trump as “unreliable” or unpredictable, and even dangerous. Chinese saw Trump as a joke, on the one hand, turning the elections into a reality TV show, and as an enemy on the other hand, repeatedly insulting and threatening the Chinese people. Since the meeting between Donald Trump and Xijinping, however, the Chinese view of Donald Trump has improved dramatically. With the exception of the major sticking point of a possible US-North Korea military conflict, it seems that the Chinese public is hopeful for the future of Sino-American relations.
 杨阳. “社评：为什么一些中国人更喜欢特朗普” 环球网. “Yang Yang. “Social comment: why some Chinese people prefer Trump”， 29 Sep. 2016
 劳木：中国网民评特朗普“执政百日Lao Mu: Chinese netizens commented on Trump “ruling hundred days, 2017
 劳木：中国网民评特朗普“执政百日Lao Mu: Chinese netizens commented on Trump “ruling hundred days, 2017